TI Automotive Systems is continuing to shape its future as an independent entity, with new technology breakthroughs in Europe, pending programs in North America and a consolidated U.S. testing facility in Auburn Hills.
``There were a lot of questions facing us, like can we even afford to make the investments needed,'' admitted TI Chief Executive Officer William Laule during a July 23 news conference in Auburn Hills.
With a nearly $6 million production ramp-up in Rastatt, Germany, for a blow molded, multilayer tank module, and a $2.5 million investment for the testing center in Michigan, TI already has stepped up to the demands imposed by its customers and government regulations, Laule said.
And more is on the way, with TI seeking its first North American customers for the new ``ship in a bottle'' - or SIB - tank program. TI also is preparing its first Asian tank manufacturing program in South Korea, making multilayer, blow molded tanks for a Japanese automaker, although Laule did not provide details.
TI Automotive, based in Warren, Mich., was spun off from London-based Smiths Group plc last year. TI includes Smiths' former fuel tank, pump and hose operations, along with connections and hoses for brakes and air conditioning systems.
The unit went solo just as tougher emissions requirements hit in California, requiring new production techniques for plastic tanks to ensure they meet those standards.
The first emissions reductions required fuel systems to allow evaporative emissions of 400 milligrams per day or less. By 2004, the standard drops to 150 milligrams per day.
TI is ready, said Manouchehr Kambakhsh, vice president of global advanced engineering.
The company's new SIB system - which moves components in where leaks could occur inside the blow molded tanks - comes in at less than 6 milligrams per day. Its complete vapor-recovery tank, which likewise captures emissions inside a cover and funnels them back into the tank, also passes muster, he said.
``The technology we have today allows us to meet these challenges,'' he said.
The company's research team has considered other manufacturing methods, Kambakhsh said. It produced injection molded and thermoformed tanks and compared resin and metal. But the team still believes blow molding is the best option, he said, because it can produce systems that meet stringent requirements while still using the existing molding infrastructure in place at TI's plants.
The expanded testing center in Auburn Hills consolidates operations previously spread between there, nearby Warren and Sanford, Fla. A separate fuel system testing site still operates in Caro, Mich.
In Auburn Hills, the company can check more than the emissions released at the tanks. A simulated fueling station checks for vapor loss when drivers gas up. Fuel, brake and air conditioning hose testing looks for potential problems when the lines are exposed to solvents and grease under the hood, as well as the impact of heat, freezing tempera- tures and road salt, said Joe Roznowski, director of the global test group.
Those capabilities, to produce and test every element of a fuel system, remains TI's core strength - just as it was when its original parent company, TI Group, created the business through a series of acquisitions in the 1990s, Laule said.
``This is one of the elements that has made it possible to meet each one of the targets,'' Kambakhsh added. ``We understand the complete vehicle.''